Home, sweet creative home
The new Warehouse Artist Lofts opens its doors to Sacramento’s arts and entertainment community
It was still dark out when Trisha Rhomberg queued up to apply for an apartment at the Warehouse Artist Lofts on R Street. She set her alarm for 4 a.m. and snagged the 36th spot in line last October.
Most residents started moving into WAL in January, eager to not only furnish and decorate their new, energy-efficient and affordable abodes, but to explore what this new housing community can really do—and if the R Street corridor can really become the creative soul of the city.
Folks who swing by the official opening celebration on Thursday, April 9, will be wowed by stunning installations by local artists, as well as killer amenities like a dance studio, classroom, music room and rooftop garden with clear views of downtown Sacramento.
There’s also the public marketplace, which will feature Rhomberg’s shop Old Gold. It’ll stock vintage clothing and local handmade goods—a brick-and-mortar Etsy of sorts. She hopes it’ll open by May 1, pending construction progress.
“Everyone shops online, and that’s affordable and cool and all,” Rhomberg says, “but I think people still need a place to go and talk to people and have that tactile, physical experience. It helps you gain more respect for the craftsmanship.”
Rhomberg is one of the former owners of Bows & Arrows, the gallery, cafe, music venue and boutique concept that closed in February 2014. Shortly thereafter, Rhomberg had a baby and dedicated time to motherhood. All the while, she took classes in laser-cutting, stained glass, welding, jewelry and other maker skills. She met local creatives—brilliant creatives—who inspired her to open a shop to help those people sell their work. Now she’s partnered up with Racks Boutique owner Rachel Fowler, Erica Setness and Arlene Trompczynski for Old Gold. Voila, art jobs.
“I view myself as a microphone,” she says. “I want to shout from the mountaintops that this person is the raddest musician ever, or she makes the coolest, most beautiful wood furniture. I want to be the one to brag about these people. As a painter and a maker myself, it’s really weird and awkward to toot your own horn.”
Rhomberg also hopes to sell things created by WAL residents—just one form of collaboration expected from the community. That’s developer Ali Youssefi’s vision for WAL: a place for artists to live together and team up to positively impact Sacramento.
“One of the ways our city is going to grow and become a cooler place to live and visit is if we have more arts and entertainment,” he says. “That means we need to be attracting more artists, not just to visit but to live here.”
Youssefi has long been an affordable housing developer as vice president of CFY Development Inc. But why throw art into the mix? He says he believes in its power. He’s always loved to paint, and still dedicates time to the city’s arts as a board member at the Verge Center for the Arts, B Street Theatre and the E. Claire Raley Studios for the Performing Arts. He reached out to local artists to shape WAL’s design in the planning stages, ultimately resulting in mixed historical and modern architecture; retail and residential space; and affordable and market-rate housing.
“It was important for us to make sure this was unique to Sacramento and our artists,” Youssefi says. “This is unlike anything else in the country.”
At its most basic function, WAL is a place to live. But even that alone is great, Rhomberg says.
“It’s going to allow a few more artists to survive and keep creating,” she says. “That might mean there are two more places to see art, or two more places to see live music, or a few places to meet and generate more ideas.”
WAL’s artists come from a variety of disciplines—some established, some just emerging. There’s soul singer- songwriter James Cavern, who has talked about relaunching his Porch Sessions acoustic video series at WAL as the Loft Sessions; Tre Borden, the brain behind the seven-month gallery Exhibit S inside the deserted Sacramento Downtown Plaza; Michelle Alexander, an artist and executive director of the Arts & Business Council of Sacramento; muralist Jose Di Gregorio, whose work you’ll recognize from Ruhstaller Beer’s barley wine bottles; and hundreds more.
Resident, Beatnik Studios co-owner and professional photographer Wes Davis sees WAL as a place for “conversations between artists on how to have a sustainable future.” He wants residents to band together and learn from one another, particularly from a business standpoint.
“Every artist has heard the phrase, ’It’d be great exposure,’ says Davis, who is also an occasional contributor to SN&R. “I want to make sure this community doesn’t get caught up providing free creative development in town.”
That said, Davis does see WAL as a great resource to the public for finding artists, for connecting with people and embarking on projects together. But questions still loom about how WAL, a private residence, will handle so much public attention. There’s talk of events in common spaces—film screenings, concerts, art shows. Will all be invited into these artists’ home?
Youssefi says it’s up to the residents to figure this part out, but that privacy is important. Resident panels are just getting formed to take up different topics, including events. As an event-planner at Beatnik, Davis says he has some concerns.
“We could certainly do little events with bands or poets who live here, but once you open it to the public or charge covers, that’s going to get really complicated,” he says. “Doing events is a full-time business. You can’t expect artists to volunteer over and over.”
But you can expect the influx of bodies to influence R Street as a whole. Sacramento performance-painter David Garibaldi moved into a studio right across from WAL—a big deal for the arts community. Meanwhile, a long lineup of businesses is prepping to flood the corridor this year.
“R Street is unique. It’s got a lot of historical character,” Youssefi says. “With Verge [Center for the Arts] and Beatnik, there already have been artists here. This is just meant to help build a critical mass. I want to see more festivals and an art walk—and not just one block, but a real art walk with WAL as an anchor.”
Rhomberg agrees, predicting a shift in Midtown’s landscape. Ideas are percolating, and people are watching.
“It’s like this energy ball [WAL] creates interest from the outside, and it gives the people who are inside living here a little push to connect and make things happen,” Rhomberg says. “There’s a lot of buzz. Buzz is always good.”